Clutch can be considered a proud part of American rock history. As the four-piece enter their 23rd year together, they hit the precious milestone of album number ten with ‘Earth Rocker’ and prove that they’re still doing what they do, to an exceptional standard. But what exactly do Clutch do?
The Maryland-based act have been widely considered a rock n’ roll band – albeit a thinking man’s rock n’ roll band – and that’s certainly not a derogatory term for them. Like a lot of the best rock acts in the US, they’re built from the monumental legacies of those who first lived the rock n’ roll lifestyle and planted the musical seeds for it. Like it or not, the sopping blues classics of Robert Johnson began the tradition. Just because it’s electrified and modern, doesn’t mean Clutch aren’t a part of rock’s tree of life.
Previous albums have seen the foursome creating their own huge rock sound carved from desert rock, hard rock, blues and stoner, even exploring hardcore punk in their earlier years. ‘Earth Rocker’ represents Clutch’s biggest move into Canyon-sized chunks of hard rock, while maintaining some accessible pop sensibilities without walking into a mine-field of disposable rubbish.
As expected, guitarist Tim Sult’s wah-wah work is on form again with its trademark funky zest welded into Clutch’s more energised rock-centric passages. ‘D.C Sound Attack’ is an album highlight for its twisting riffs and blues harmonica while the reflective ‘Gone Cold’ is a unique homage to the blues tradition with Clutch’s own sombre, gutter-bound story laden with a subtle slice of desert rock. The slower, dusty blues track could be on a Chuck E. Weiss record, with personal, emotive lyrics and a deep vocal style resonating from frontman Neil Fallon. It provides the perfect soundtrack for a drifting character travelling on a greyhound bus to Burma Shave with no way back. Musically, it splits the album up before Clutch explode in a confetti haze with riff-emphasised rock n’ roll on ’The Face’. Drummer Jean-Paul Gaster throws up some unexpected off-beats in the quirky tune before getting back to some more straight-forward bobbing hard rock with ‘Cyborg Bette’ and the catchy-as-hell ‘Oh, Isabella’, which undoubtedly has the strongest chorus on the record. For Clutch, ‘Earth Rocker’ is another step closer to immortalising their legacy as one of the great American rock delights.
Initially published at SoundShock Webzine: